1Q84 / Haruki Murakami

The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.  Aomame, a young woman taking a taxi to an appointment, finds herself stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway.  Not wanting to be late to her business meeting, she decides to take an emergency stairway exit to the street level below.  In doing so, she unwittingly enters a parallel world, a place she will come to call 1Q84.  It is a place where subtle changes are gradually revealed, along with a major one; there are two moons in the sky.  Has the reader entered the realm of science fiction?  No, being the typical Murakami novel, it is a place where fantasy and mundane life meld comfortably on the page.  In alternating chapters, the reader is introduced to Tengo, an aspiring writer who has taken on ghostwriting a crude manuscript penned by a teenage girl.  It is called Air Chrysalis and tells the story of a world where there are two moons in the sky and creatures called Little People.  Emerging from the mouth of a dead goat, they seem to be up to something nefarious.  Sound silly?  Taken at face value, the plot is both bizarre and nonsensical.  Fortunately, Murakami has created two fascinating characters in Aomame and Tengo.  As an added bonus, in this parallel world there is a third character, a private investigator, Ushikama, who is pursuing them.  He is working for a religious cult with ties to the Little People.  I found him to be a complex character study, the bad guy who is not nearly as evil as one would expect.  Some will find the story far too uneventful for long stretches.  To me, it is the book’s greatest strengths; Murakami takes his time in creating characters of interest.  This is by means one of his best novels; the story tries to be too many things at once—a love story, a mystery, a detective story, and a journey of self-discovery.  The novel has been compared to Orwell’s 1984, but it does not come close to that story’s complexity or depth.  Thankfully, despite a “hard to swallow” storyline, Murakami skill as a writer kept my interest throughout.  If the reader is willing to suspend belief and be patient, 1Q84 is a parallel world worth visiting.

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